Modernizing Interoperability Will Help Battle the Ongoing Effects of COVID

Fluid data exchange

Information has been our greatest weapon against COVID-19 — as it has against all maladies —  and data is incredibly valuable as the way we keep that weapon sharp. Information exchange within the legal system helps everyone gain access to the latest data, especially the statistics most relevant to handling the urgent aspects of the pandemic in real time. As the infection rate drops, especially among the vaccinated, we have this openness and flexibility to thank for circulating state and provider information among all parties.

But as COVID-19 has remained at large, we have begun to notice and confirm cases of “Long COVID,” where infected individuals continue to suffer coronavirus symptoms after their initial period of illness. Nearly 25% of COVID-19 patients develop these lingering and even chronic symptoms, and yet doctors remain unclear as to the factors and causes that determine who will shrug the virus off and who will continue to suffer. And while the wealth of data within the public health registry systems is wonderful for combatting the immediate and deadly toll of the pandemic, we could be doing more to gather information about ongoing phenomena like long COVID, since we may be battling those issues when the pandemic is an unpleasant memory.

When patients realize they’re dealing with lingering COVID symptoms, they often do so with their private providers, whose files are separate from the emergency data kept on the pandemic. State health departments are currently collecting massive amounts of data on many aspects of COVID, and willingness and efficiency at circulating information has only created more market demand for data-exchange solutions, including easy ways to integrate public and private data. By making sure to link private healthcare providers’ data gathering apparatus with those at the state level, we can integrate data private providers gather about remaining or emergent symptoms once the immediate effects of the Coronavirus have been recorded by the state. With easy access to data about Long COVID, the states will be better prepared, no matter how it lingers.

We must solve the immediate onslaught of COVID without losing sight of potential after-effects which could be devastating on their own, leaving the many patients likely to suffer from ongoing problems with a much longer time to wait for relief. The existing infrastructure around COVID-19 data collection must expand to include data about ongoing symptoms from private providers, hospitals, and more. This means updating data collecting software at all levels of the medical process, and streamlining statewide access to data and ability to collect and collate information.

Free and fluid data exchange has been vital to the fight against COVID-19 and will remain vital when Long COVID is the only variant left as a public health issue. Healthcare organizations at all levels should both support and leverage regulatory incentives that support data exchange, even as we seek to improve our workflow platforms. Many of us have no idea what effect COVID will have on the economy, on education, and on politics, and it may be that gathering medical data is of limited use there. But medical data is incredibly useful for solving medical problems, and so we must be sure to put systems in place that collect the data we will need to battle Long COVID and other lasting harms now, so that we do not have to scramble to do it later.

John Schaeffer leads SSG with a vision to apply his combined IT and management consulting experience to enhance public sector organizations.  Previously, he worked on a consulting basis within financial services for Goldman Sachs, Prudential Investments, and Credit Suisse First Boston. John holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


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